Battling Bad Behavior

College Drinking:
Norms vs. Perceptions

Poster for a public health program aimed at reducing misperceptions about drinking at Virginia Commonwealth University

Though well meaning perhaps, shocking headlines in the media and related scare tactics may inadvertently serve to further inflate students' misperception that their peers are largely out of control when it comes to alcohol. Our research tells quite a different story: College students consistently overestimate the extent to which their peers engage in high-risk drinking and, more importantly, this misperception correlates strongly with personal consumption. In point of fact, the norm among college students is to drink moderately if at all. And promoting this good news is an essential element of the health promotion strategy known as the social norms approach.

The powerful impact that norms have on both thought and behavior is a well established area of research in the social...

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